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R W Emerson
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...Meditation on landscapes
F. L. Olmsted
During the later half of the nineteenth century cities in America underwent tremendous changes. More people were moving to the cities than ever before. It became evident that cities needed to be transformed into more hospitable places, and not just centers of commerce. No longer could the leaders of society or the City fathers sit back and watch the Cities operate. Towards the end of the 1850s city beautification became an issue that more and more leaders followed and explored. The theory behind this movement was that the more aesthetically pleasing you make a city, the more people will want to live in that city, and the happier they will be.
One of the greatest champions of the City Beautiful movement was Frederick law Olmsted. Olmsted was a the leading landscape architect of the post-Civil War generation, and has long been acknowledged as the founder of American landscape architecture.
But the degree of good that one gets from the ever present landscape depends on two things. First, the keenness of one's perception of the beautiful qualities in landscape, a thing which can be readily developed by practice in observation and comparison. Second, the physical qualities of the landscape itself, qualities which depend largely upon the doings of man, as woodsman, farmer, gardener, builder, or in some fashion controller of the materials and forces of nature. For the appearance of the land and the objects upon it generally results from the control which man himself exerts over the materials and forces of nature just as truly and as completely as the sculptor controls the appearance of the natural stone which he shapes.
There is not one of us who is not responsible in some degree for making or marring the landscape of our world, from the, heedless one who befouls it with papers thrown to the winds or who drops a glowing match that sweeps the woodland with fire, to the engineer who remodels a whole country-side in pursuit of some deliberate economic aim, or the patient artist who devotes himself for years to perfecting the beauty of a single bit of ground.
Whenever this human control over the land and the objects upon it is influenced by desire to make the resulting landscape more enjoyable than it would otherwise be, an element of artistry enters, which often attains the quality of a Fine Art.
This art is most often called landscape architecture when practiced professionally. But it has gone by many other names, and as an element in other occupations it is a very ancient and wide-spread art; a very modest and unpretentious art for the most part, as when the plowman takes a simple pride in his clean and perfect furrows. The texture of a field well plowed in spring is as beautiful as any fabric from the loom; more subtly beautiful than the plowman often quite appreciates, but with a beauty that would not have been attained but for his pride in a job that not only is but looks well done.
The beauty of the landscape in which the plowman's furrows form a part depends on many things besides the texture of his field and the rich coloring of the local soil in perfect tilth; such things as the shape and the size of the field in relation to the modelling of its surface, sloping this way or that, rounding upward or hollowing downward or flat in various parts; such as the position and form and color of objects and masses rising from the earth or spread upon its surface within or about the field - trees, bushes, fences, buildings, and their shadows, adjoining surfaces of smooth greensward or richly stippled many-colored berry patch, the corner of a door-yard garden with bright color of flowers coming into bloom, the still more striking note of water in a pond reflecting the bright light of a colored western sky that forms the upper half of the picture.
These and other elements seen in combination make this particular landscape exactly what it is. And except in the untouched wilderness the elements of any landscape are just what they happen to be only because on that part of the earth men have acted just as they have. The motive of their actions and their neglects may have been mainly economic, the pursuit of three meals a day and shelter and clothing; but often there has been present, consciously or unconsciously, some degree of regard for appearance, as with the plowman.
Conscious effort for pleasant qualities in landscape is often narrow and petty, disregarding the larger beauty of the landscape for some minor quality. Thus one may paint a house with a color that is pleasant enough in itself, but discordant with its surrounding. Or one may choose a line for a hedge, because of some general prepossession for straight hedges (or just as likely for avoiding straight hedges) in such a way that the hedge appears to cut in two an open space that is marked as a single pleasant unit by every other element of the landscape - by the form of the ground, by the direction of outlook from a house, by surrounding trees or buildings or roads, by everything in sight - and thus may impair and fritter away in pursuit of a detail, or in following some arbitrary "rule," the finest quality in a landscape formed in advance by nature and by circumstances not of one's own contriving. For in a landscape as in any work of art, unity of effect is fundamental. The quality of the whole depends upon its different parts appearing to belong together, each helping out the effect of the others.
- Frederick Law Olmsted
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